KHARKIV, Ukraine (AFP) –
The Netherlands’ players hinted that their Euro 2012 campaign had been undermined by changing-room disunity after their participation in the tournament ended with a 2-1 loss to Portugal.
A team that arrived at the competition as one of the favourites after finishing runners-up at the 2010 World Cup and plundering 37 goals in qualifying will travel home dejected following three consecutive defeats.
The draw that placed the Dutch in the finely balanced Group B was not kind, but no-one could have predicted the tame losses to Denmark, Germany and Portugal that followed.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the axeman in their final game on Sunday, scoring twice to cancel out Rafael van der Vaart’s opener in Kharkiv and leaving Bert van Marwijk’s side rooted to the foot of the table without a point to their name.
The cracks had appeared earlier, however, with outbursts from several players hinting at discord among a national squad with a historical reputation for feuding and in-fighting.
Van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar both complained about being left out of the starting line-up, while Arjen Robben reacted petulantly to his substitution during the 1-0 loss to Germany.
Asked to provide explanations for his team’s struggles after the defeat by Portugal, Robben appeared at a loss.
“We lost three times. It’s a difficult thing to accept,” said the Bayern Munich winger.
“We have to dare to look at ourselves in the mirror: we all failed. It’s hard to find explanations. Sometimes things are impossible to explain.
“In the match (against Portugal), we started the match well but we quickly forgot to keep developing our play.”
Tellingly, he conceded that, behind the scenes, all had not been well.
“Things happened in the squad, but we’ll keep that between us,” he said.
Holland’s unexpected failure will inevitably prompt scrutiny of national coach van Marwijk, who extended his contract until 2016 last year.
The man who led the Oranje to the last World Cup final seemed incapable of reacting to the setbacks that assailed them in Poland and Ukraine, as Holland fell at the first stage of a Euro for the first time since 1980.
Captain Mark van Bommel — van Marwijk’s own son-in-law — said the coach’s choices were “questionable”, but Wesley Sneijder still believes he is the right man for the job.
“Should we continue with Bert van Marwijk? Why not? I say yes,” said the Inter Milan playmaker, who was moved to the left flank against Portugal to accommodate Huntelaar at the tip of the attack.
“Two years ago, at the World Cup, it worked very well. This time, no. But I still think he has a clear future in charge of the Oranje.
“He has demonstrated his qualities by resolving internal problems in the right way.”
In his post-match press conference, van Marwijk said the issue was not up for discussion.
Van der Vaart, who captained the team against Portugal on his 99th appearance, was unable to disguise his disgust at Holland’s premature exit from the competition.
“It’s very simple: we weren’t good enough,” he said.
“We lose three times, and everything stops. What we’ve shown was very, very poor. We definitely started (against Portugal) with lots of speed — that was the objective — but then, afterwards, everything stopped.
“It got worse and worse. And our opponents were better.”
The Netherlands’ next competitive assignment is a 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Turkey in Amsterdam in September.
The Dutch will start as favourites in a group that also contains Hungary, Romania, Estonia and Andorra, but the disappointments of Euro 2012 look set to prompt further soul-searching for a team that seems to be in permanent conflict with itself.